Jailed and Bailed!

Southasia - - FRONT PAGE - By S.G. Ji­la­nee Daily Mail, The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of Southasia.

One of In­dia’s most col­or­ful and con­tro­ver­sial po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, 66 years old Jay­alalitha Ja­yaram, three times chief min­is­ter of Tamil Nadu and chief of the All In­dia Anna Dravida Mun­netra Kaza­gham (AIADMK), has fallen on hard times. In a case that dragged on for 18 years, she was even­tu­ally con­victed of amass­ing un­ac­counted for wealth worth more than $10 mil­lion and sentenced to four years in jail along with a fine of Rs.100 crore.

How­ever, she stepped out of the Parap­pana Agra­hara Cen­tral Prison in Ban­ga­lore after spend­ing 21 days in the VVIP cell 23 as pris­oner num­ber 7402, fol­low­ing the grant of bail by the Supreme Court.

It all started on June 14, 1996, when Subramanian Swamy, then

pres­i­dent of the Janata Party, filed a com­plaint be­fore a prin­ci­pal ses­sion’s judge, al­leg­ing that Jay­alalitha had as­sets dis­pro­por­tion­ate to her known sources of in­come. The court di­rected the Direc­torate of Vig­i­lance and An­tiCor­rup­tion Wing to in­ves­ti­gate the com­plaint.

The po­lice regis­tered an FIR on Septem­ber 18, 1996 and a probe was con­ducted with search and seizure op­er­a­tions at a num­ber of lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing Hy­der­abad. Ul­ti­mately a charge sheet was filed and wit­nesses ex­am­ined.

It was al­leged that the value of Jay­alalitha's as­sets had in­creased to Rs.66.65 crore when she left of­fice in 1996 after a five year stint. Be­fore as­sum­ing of­fice as chief min­is­ter on July 1, 1991, the value of her as­sets was Rs.2.01 crore. More­over, she had claimed at the time that she was draw­ing a salary of Re.1 per month.

Ac­cept­ing the com­plainant’s plea that a fair trial might not be pos­si­ble in Tamil Nadu where the de­fen­dant was chief min­is­ter, the Supreme Court or­dered that the case be trans­ferred to Ban­ga­lore.

But her con­vic­tion did not af­fect her pop­u­lar­ity. After her re­lease she ar­rived in Chen­nai to a tem­pes­tu­ous wel­come by hun­dreds of men and women who thronged the air­port and her Poes Gar­den res­i­dence, hail­ing their ‘Amma’ and ‘Pu­ratchi Tha­laivi’ (rev­o­lu­tion­ary leader).

Thou­sands of her sup­port­ers who gath­ered around the Cen­tral Prison in Ban­ga­lore greeted her with shouts of ‘long live Amma’ when she came out. The no­table peo­ple who were present out­side the jail to wel­come her in­cluded Tamil Nadu Chief Min­is­ter O Pan­neer­sel­vam, a num­ber of min­is­ters, MPs, for­mer MPs and party lead­ers.

Ear­lier, when she was sentenced and her bail pe­ti­tion re­jected by the Kar­nataka High Court, crowds came out on the streets weep­ing and beat­ing their chest. In a show of sol­i­dar­ity with her as a yes­ter­year ac­tor, the Tamil film in­dus­try shut its op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing screen­ing of films, and held a day-long fast. Ac­cord­ing to London’s 17 peo­ple killed them­selves or died of car­diac ar­rest after re­ceiv­ing the news of her jail sen­tence. “An 18-year-old set her­self ablaze, a 21-year-old hung her­self and two peo­ple aged 40 and 70 con­sumed poi­son while a po­lice of­fi­cer tried to im­mo­late him­self.”

The fig­ures re­leased by the party men­tion more than one hun­dred fa­tal­i­ties.

Mem­bers of the Toda tribal com­mu­nity or­ga­nized a spe­cial prayer at the Muthanaad mund (Toda habi­ta­tion) off the Ooty-Mysore High­way, where hun­dreds of Toda men and women from the ‘munds’ gath­ered in front of the tra­di­tional Moonbo tem­ple and of­fered prayers to the pre­sid­ing de­ity Thek­ish Am­man to pray for Jay­alalitha’s re­in­state­ment.

For Jay­alalitha, how­ever, this is not the first time that she was in­ves­ti­gated for own­ing as­sets dis­pro­por­tion­ate to her known sources of in­come. A po­lice raid in 1997 re­cov­ered 750 pairs of footwear, 800kg of sil­ver, 28kg gold, 10,500 sa­rees and 91 watches. With all that she could be called the In­dian pro­to­type of Imelda Mar­cos. The dif­fer­ence be­tween her 750 and Imelda’s 3000 pairs of shoes is ex­plained by their re­spec­tive sta­tus. Jay­alalitha was the chief min­is­ter of a state while Imelda was the first lady of a coun­try.

Jay­alalitha is known for her overly ex­trav­a­gant life­style. She al­legedly spent Rs6 crore at her foster son’s wed­ding. The event made it into the Guin­ness Book of World Records for the most guests at a wed­ding and for the largest wed­ding ban­quet.

The for­mer ac­tress, who ap­peared in more than 100 Kan­nada, Tamil and Tel­ugu films, was in­ducted into pol­i­tics in late 1980s by M.G. Ra­machan­dran, founder of the AIADMK, with whom she had costarred in many films. Ra­machan­dran served as chief min­is­ter of Tamil Nadu un­til his death. After his death, Jay­alalitha took on the man­tle of the party chief.

Be­sides a five-year stint from 1984 to 1989 as mem­ber of the Ra­jya Sabha, she served as chief min­is­ter of Tamil Nadu thrice – 199-96, 2002-06 and 2011-14. Her de­trac­tors blame her for es­tab­lish­ing a per­son­al­ity cult, be­cause many pub­lic sec­tor projects are named after her such as the can­teens scheme.

The can­teens are known as Amma Can­teens. Amma in Tamil is ‘mother’ which is how Jay­alalitha is ad­dressed by her fol­low­ers. There were other sim­i­lar schemes like Amma Bot­tled Wa­ter, Amma Salt, Amma Phar­ma­cies and the last be­ing Amma Ce­ment.

Her crit­ics al­lege that she used the Tamil Nadu Mar­ket­ing Cor­po­ra­tion – which has a mo­nop­oly on the sale of al­co­hol in the state – to pay for many of her pet projects. The liquor pol­icy of the state gov­ern­ment is also at­tacked for im­pov­er­ish­ing house­holds and ru­in­ing peo­ple's health.

But noth­ing de­tracts the de­vo­tion of Jay­alalitha's ad­mir­ers. They claim that she has played a key role in the de­vel­op­ment of the state of Tamil Nadu to make it one of In­dia's most eco­nom­i­cally in­flu­en­tial states.

She has cham­pi­oned the cause of the ru­ral and ur­ban poor by in­tro­duc­ing sub­si­dized food can­teens, pro­vid­ing free lap­tops to thou­sands of school stu­dents and launch­ing other pop­ulist schemes like giv­ing away food mix­ers and grinders to fam­i­lies. Her gov­ern­ment was the first to in­tro­duce the all-women po­lice sta­tions. She in­tro­duced 30 per­cent quo­tas for women in all po­lice jobs and es­tab­lished as many as 57 all­women po­lice sta­tions in ad­di­tion to other all-women es­tab­lish­ments like li­braries, stores, banks and co­op­er­a­tives.

Jay­alalitha is held in high es­teem by her fol­low­ers. Many of them pro­fess their loy­alty to her through bizarre acts such as walk­ing on hot coals or draw­ing her por­trait with their blood. There have also been in­ci­dents of her sup­port­ers at­tempt­ing self-im­mo­la­tion when­ever she faced po­lit­i­cal set­backs. Even her min­is­ters have been re­ported to pros­trate at her feet.

This case is the tough­est chal­lenge she has faced in her years-long po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. If she loses the ap­peal against her sen­tence, she will be de­barred from con­test­ing elec­tions for the next 10 years. By that time she would be 77 and much wa­ter would have flowed down the Cau­very. It would be an up­hill task for her to pick up the threads.

How­ever, her fol­low­ers are hope­ful that their Amma would weather the storm as she did be­fore and bounce back. Oth­ers wait in sus­pense, their eyes glued to the ap­pel­late court.

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